August 21, 2017

Loosening the Purse Strings

When I first retired I was worried about my finances. Would the money we had invested and saved be enough? Since I quit work a good ten years earlier than I planned, how would we pay for everything that was to come? Would we end up in a spare room in one of our kids' homes? 

Regular blog readers know the answer: Everything worked out just fine. My financial fears lasted a few years and then slowly faded away. As we became used to our new lifestyle we understood how flexible we could become to match income to expenses. We shifted our thinking from having to doing. We saw overall expenses drop to 50% of what they had once been even as our happiness increased.

Seventeen years into our satisfying retirement journey we are wrestling with another financial question: how do we accept that is OK to spend a bit more on experiences and things that would make us happier at home? How do we give ourselves permission to spend more? How do you loosen the purse strings?

Both Betty and I are financially conservative. We aren't big risk takers (except for retiring so early!) in how we manage our money. Beginning with our first steps into the financial world we have taken baby steps in the stock market. Its tendency to overreact to emotions, innuendos, or the fear of the day, rub us the wrong way. I tend to prefer the tortoise over the hare in the child's story. I have missed many growth opportunities by following this path. But, I have lost less sleep (and money) than others who were whipped wildly up and down by the market's gyrations. 

That all brings us to today. Our IRA and investment accounts have grown since leaving the world world in 2001. Granted, a healthy part of that is from my share of my parents' estate. That gave us all sorts of breathing room. The net result is what we have been withdrawing each year is less than the accounts generate. 

One of our personal goals is to leave a decent inheritance to our daughters. Each share won't be large enough to fund their retirements, but should be an important safety net for each. I know people have different views on leaving money for their kids. The last time I wrote about this there were some none-too-subtle suggestions that adult children shouldn't get anything; we worked for the money so It was ours to spend. I accept that point of view, I just disagree. 

Another goal is to enjoy the fruits of our sacrifices earlier in life. Delayed gratification was a linchpin to our financial planning. But, importantly, that shouldn't mean, delayed forever. Never doing some of the things we dreamed about would be wrong. That would make the earlier sacrifices futile. 

Interestingly, early in our retirement when our financial situation was less secure, we went to Europe twice and spent several glorious weeks in Hawaii on two different occasions. Last summer we took a long-delayed Alaskan Cruise and loved every moment of it. The memories were tremendous and the experiences very positive. Did i worry about how much we spent? Yes.

Two months ago we decided take the big plunge and book a river cruise from Amsterdam to Basal in Switzerland. The cost will be substantial. We splurged for upgraded airline economy seating, a full balcony room on the ship, added extra days before and after the trip, as well as pricey travel and medical insurance. When I was presented with the final bill, I swallowed very hard, and said, OK.

I told myself not to think of it as a large percentage of our yearly budget, but as an investment in our lives together, something we'd look back upon as a highlight forever. With this trip, I believe I have accepted that the money we worked so hard to accumulate is there to use. We won't be foolish with our blessings, but, neither will we say no to experiences that will enrich our lives and make us happy.

As I type these words, I continue to wonder how tightly I am holding onto those purse strings.

August 18, 2017

Exercise: What Do You Do To Stay Healthy?

Regular reader, Madeline, asked if I would take a look at an area that many of us struggle with: exercise. A recent study found that a higher percentage of those 65+ are more concerned about health issues than financial stability. That makes sense since a major health crisis can do major damage to one's financial situation, even with Medicare and supplemental insurance in place.

It is a given that moving our bodies is helpful. Suggestions for people our age center on both cardio or aerobic and well as weight bearing activities. Thirty minutes a day for at least five days a week of walking and a few days of muscle strengthening exercises seems to be the consensus. If you jog or run, the total time can be reduced by half.

I can only speak for me, but that exercise frequency is not always met. Since Betty rejoined our gym we are doing better; 4 days a week is pretty typical. We start on the treadmill and then move to free weights or machines. During the cooler months of the year I will ride my bike a few miles a few times a week. Because of bad knees and hips, Betty has tried biking but finds it is painful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good summary of the needs of older adults. One section deal with the amount and intensity of exercise we need. Another area details how to make physical activity a party of your life. Of course, there are thousands of other web sites that may give you important tips and ideas that help you. I have listed a handful at the end of this post.

For us, the primary concern is making exercise a part of our life without injury. I have the unfortunate habit of deciding to add more to my exercise life, only to pull or strain something that forces me to back off again. Learning our personal limitations becomes an important part of the process. 

So, I am turning things over to you for ideas, support, and suggestions. What have you found works best to stay as healthy as you can? How do you find the time to do what you should? Do you have to force yourself to meet your exercise needs, or do you look forward to physically pushing your body? 

Here are a few web sites that you might find helpful:

Senior workout needs

Physical activity for older adults

Activity Guidelines for Older Adults

Choosing the right activities

Easy home exercises

And, if you are limited to only chair-type exercises, here is a sample of what you can do to stay fit (if there is an ad at first, you can skip after 4 seconds!)

August 15, 2017

Retirement and Adventure: An Uncommon Couple?

Generally, I play it safe. You aren't going to to find me bungee-jumping, sky-diving, rock-climbing, even riding a big, fast roller coaster. Thunder Mountain at Disneyland is about my speed. Financially, my wife and I are conservative. Our possessions are quite mainstream. When we vacation we make standard choices like Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest.  Going to Tibet or the rain forest of the Amazon aren't really on our radar, though next year we will break out a bit with a river cruise in Europe.

So, why a post about adding adventure to your life? Primarily, I need to listen to the message. Also, adventure has a much broader definition than is usually assigned to the word. It doesn't have to just involve physical activities. Adventure is what being alive is about. This subject also seems like a sensible follow up to the post based on two quotes that ran last month.

Why Be Adventurous?

What are the possible gains if you decide to embrace a more adventurous life? Self-confidence and belief in yourself with be strengthened. You could discover abilities you think you lack. You might learn to overcome some fears that have been holding you back from a truly satisfying retirement.  Of course, fear is a good thing. It can keep you from physical harm. But, fear of things that aren't likely to hurt you can limit your life experiences.

Trying new things might help you understand more about your strengths and weaknesses. If your limits are not tested how can you know what those limits are? Henry David Thoreau said it best: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. "  We can't know what music is still in us if we have no idea what we are capable of.

What Does Adding Adventure Look Like?

Adding adventure to your life can come in several forms. No matter what I write here, I'm still not jumping out of a plane or exploring deep, dark caves. It just isn't going to happen. But, that doesn't mean I can't discover what would work with my personality and temperament. One idea is to look at friends and acquaintances who are higher up the adventure-meter than I and see if there is something I can adapt to my life.

I know a man who loves to mountain bike. He thinks nothing of hurling down a hill, full bore, with just his skill and a dash of luck to keep him from a serious spill. OK, not my style. Not gong to happen. But, I've toyed with the idea of getting a trail bike and starting to pedal my way through desert trails in the Phoenix area. There is still some danger from rocks, loose sand, even an occasional rattlesnake. But, that level of danger I believe I am able to tolerate. It sounds like fun, it is something I can handle physically, and would expand my horizons. I wouldn't shatter my comfort zone, just push the edge back a bit. It doesn’t matter how wild or daring this adventure is. What matters is trying something new.

I read somewhere a definition of adventure that includes anything that makes your heart race or your pulse quicken. Thus almost any experience in life qualifies. For example, what if you went to a restaurant that serves food you normally don't eat? What if you order something from the menu you can't even pronounce? Would that qualify as an adventure? Absolutely. You are allowing yourself to fail in an adventurous attempt to succeed. The only real risks are wasted money, you go home hungry, or you missed the chance to discover a whole new cuisine you enjoy.

Are these adventurous -  talking to a stranger at a social or community event, painting your living room a bold shade of red, or going to the opera when you are sure you will hate it? Absolutely. Each of those is every bit as much an adventure as rafting down the Colorado. How about trying a new flavor of coffee? Buy three magazines in subjects you don't know or understand. Read them.

Here is an example that I just added to my adventure palette: restoring vintage radios. I have bought a few radios from the 1930s and 40s. I find them pretty to look at. The wooden cases are beautifully crafted. Even more fun is actually getting them to work. 

I have the tools I should need and an excellent source of "how-to" steps. What I don't have is all the technical knowledge to be sure I will be able to repair and restore them. But, I am going to give it a shot. The worst that happens? I have invested a few hundred dollars in something that won't work but is still nice to look at. Whether these 70 year old radios work is almost beside the point. The effort is the adventure. 

Life is An Adventure, isn't it?

Adding adventure really just means that you choose to become a lover of life. Decide to say, "Yes," when your comfortable self wants to say, "No."  There be will  mistakes, there might be some embarrassment. Heavens, you may fall flat on your face, both literally and figuratively. If this happens get up, learn from you mistakes and give it another shot.

Choose to say, “Yes.” Do what have you always wanted but never dared try. Don’t fear risks. Take measured risks. Know that you are grabbing onto what life has to offer.

Question: What one thing have you done that surprised even you? What would qualify as an adventure in your life?

August 12, 2017

My Smart Speaker Experiment

Blog reader, Rick from Oregon, read my post from a few weeks ago,  Do You Have a Smart Speaker?  and decided to issue a challenge. He suggested I buy an Amazon Dot and try living with it for a few weeks. If I didn't find it useful he offered to buy it from me. That sounded like a win-win deal, so I took him up on the offer; my $50 Dot arrived on July 26th and was installed in the living room.

The Dot is the little brother to the Echo, the device that is getting most of the press. The Dot does what the more expensive version does but with a smaller speaker. If using the Dot to play music it should be plugged into a sound system or a better quality speaker.  Otherwise, it is the same device: an always on voice-activated command center.

In the almost three weeks I have had the Dot, how have I used it? I started by asking it to answer some random, silly questions, like the distance to Mars, the current temperature and chance of rain, the start time of a baseball game, and to tell me some jokes. I asked it to read what was on my calendar for the rest of the day and to set a reminder for several hours in the future.

Then, I asked Alexa to play some music. I  tried light jazz, oldies, smooth jazz (there is a difference), piano solos, and big band vocals. She (because of Alexa's voice I think of the Dot as female) performed flawlessly. I can ask her to raise or lower the volume, skip a song, or simply "Stop." Unfortunately, I can't use Spotify unless I upgrade to their premium service, which at $10 a month isn't worth it to me. Pandora's free service and Amazon music are just fine.

I am not particularly motivated to get whatever is required to have the Dot turn my lights on and off, or perform other smart home functions. I can see the value if my mobility were restricted, but for now I will control my own lights and air conditioner, thank you very much.

Betty likes audio books, and the Dot can fulfill that need. Any book we have purchased and downloaded to our Kindle can be read to us. There are other services, like Audible, that can be added for an extensive library of choices. 

What else can the Dot handle? I haven't tested any of these, but the list of functions is pretty impressive:

Calling and messaging
Check your calendar
Connect Bluetooth devices
Control music
Discover music
Find local businesses and restaurants
Find traffic information
Fun and games
Get weather updates
Find out about movies
Hear the news
Keep up with your sports teams
Listen to Audible audiobooks
Listen to Amazon Music
Listen to Kindle books
Listen to podcasts and radio
Request Music
Shopping options
Set reminders
Set timers and alarms
To-dos and shopping lists

I have disabled the microphone once: when the grandkids were here and peppering Alexa with unanswerable questions! Otherwise, I have left it on and am not feeling spied upon. I would probably turn it off if I was in the habit of discussing financial matters in the living room or running a business. I don't believe Amazon is monitoring my every conversation, but hacking into a WiFi network is very possible. 

I do assume the company makes use of what I may order or ask about to target ads to me on other devices. Amazon already uses past purchases to recommend similar ones, while Google certainly uses my searches to suggest what my life may be lacking. 

Bottom line: Rick, I will not ask you to buy the Dot from me. I could certainly live without it. It doesn't do anything I couldn't accomplish some other way. I would not have bought one without your challenge. But, it is convenient and easy to use, and at times, even fun. So, it will stay and answer my commands, or at least most of them. 

August 9, 2017

5 Retirement Myths You Should Ignore

Being human, we tend to look for simple solutions to complex problems. We accept "common wisdom" rather than do the hard work necessary to find answers for ourselves. 

What follows are five myths about retirement: beliefs that are comforting and sound logical, except, they are not true. Ask yourself how many you have fallen for, how many affected your retirement planning and lifestyle.

1) It will all work itself out

This has to be the most dangerous of the untruths we tell ourselves. With the typical 50-something American having less than $100,000 set aside for retirement, the next 30 years of your life will not magically work itself out.  No matter how generous a pension might be, or how much Social Security is likely to pay you each month, you are not going to have a satisfying retirement on a savings account that produces less than $300 a month of additional income. 

Think of your retirement as a complex machine with lots of moving parts, and one of them is financial. It is absolutely true that you can't know exactly how much money you will need during your retirement. But, any reasonable projection will start with the assumption that you need to have quite a bit more than that to a shot at a comfortable retirement. 

2) My retirement plans are based on solid, proven advice. I'm good to go. 

We are lucky. There are tremendously helpful resources available to us. The Internet can provide advice, planning scenarios, financial calculators, and income projections. Thousands of retirement blogs have all sorts of opinions. Investment counselors are a phone call away.

Sounds great, but it isn't enough. Your plans have one serious flaw: they will turn out to be wrong some of the time. Nothing can prepare your financial ship for another massive recession. There are no firm guidelines for handling a major stock market retrenchment. You may be just one major healthcare crisis away from kicking your plans into the gutter. You are not set. Retirement is a crash course in on-the-job-training. Base your planning on flexibility as well as solid advice. Plans are important, but they aren't infallible.

3) My spouse will welcome all my ideas and help

Maybe, maybe not. If you have a primary relationship that involves sharing space with another, be prepared for a time of adjustments and negotiations. The temptation is to analyze and then fix all the things that aren't being done properly. Having all that free time means you can bring your organizational skills to bear on the parts of home life that aren't operating at peak efficiency.

If that last sentence sounds like something from your work environment, that is the problem: where you live is not where you once worked. The person who shares space with you has not read, or even accepted the same playbook. There must be a time of compromise. Walk gently and talk softly as each of you figures out the best mix of talents and desires.

4) Boredom is bad - Avoid at all costs

I will quickly qualify:  Boredom is really bad if that defines most of your retirement lifestyle. But, in small does boredom helps push you to whatever is next. Boredom is actually good as an occasional motivator.

Let's say you have just finished something that has been a real passion for you: maybe completing a 10k run, knitting a sweater for a Christmas gift, redecorating the kitchen, cleaning out the garage so you can add a woodworking shop...something that has occupied your mind and energies for awhile.

Then, just like that, you are without an important driver in your life, a project to work on, finish, improve something, or even something as simple as to read a book that has always been on your must-read list. You are bored. Binge-watching Netflix or Game of Thrones becomes the centerpiece of your day. Nothing is really wrong except that spark just dimmed. Boredom sets in.

That feeling you are experiencing can be a powerful motivator to start something new. The feeling of drifting is not pleasant to you so you find something to shatter the boredom and push yourself forward. If you never experience even a moment of boredom you may be moving too fast to know what you are missing.

5) I come from a family with good genes. My uncle smoked until he was 95.

Good news for your Uncle, not all that relevant to you. Of course, your family genes, the pieces of your DNA that help determine your overall health and longevity play an important role in what type of retirement health journey you will experience. But, you are making a serious mistake if you build your retirement around the idea that you are destined for a long life.

The reason a professional athlete spends hours every day practicing his or her particular skill set is to be operating at peak performance. Both muscle memory and physical endurance slip after just a short time away from that repetition. A concert pianist spends 6 or more hours a day at that instrument for the same reason.

Retirement doesn't require that level of commitment to physical and mental conditioning. But, the old adage of "use it or lose it" is quite true for us. Because our cells die or regenerate much more slowly as we age, the need for exercising our bodies and brains remains. To believe otherwise is intensifying a risk with your future that you should not take.

There are more myths than just these five about retirement. Which ones have caused you the most problems?

August 6, 2017

Retirement Travel: Summer's Not Over Yet!

A part of a satisfying retirement for many of us is an active travel scheduleDepending upon our budget and personal desires, that could mean cruises, trips to Europe, and a few weeks in Hawaii. It might mean a long weekend in Durango, The Olympic National Forest, The Shenandoah Valley, or a B&B in Bar Harbor, Maine. It might mean checking into a hotel in a small town like Patagonia, three hours away from responsibilities and routine.

Over the past few months a few e-mails have asked me to investigate some unusual or different travel options. Of course, being retired, we are not restricted to vacations only from September through August, but maybe you want to get one more trip under your belt before Labor Day. I've located a few lists of places to visit and explore, some more expense than others, and the majority are within the continental U.S. so potentially doable by the bulk of the readers of this blog.

I know there are a lot of readers of this blog live in other countries: England, India, Canada, and Australia lead the list. For you folks, I'd ask a favor: leave a comment below with some of the most interesting and out-of-the way spots to visit in your country. Other readers who live there might find a great weekend getaway idea, or a longer excursion.  

So, are you ready to hit the road (or the skies, the seas, or the rails)?

This first site is from a fellow who collects vacation ideas. Some people collect stamps, quilts, old movie posters, or even tea spoons. Peter Shannon collects ideas for trips. His lists are extensive and fascinating. 

There is a seemingly endless list of vacation ideas grouped by location or type. Romantic vacations, those for the adventurous among us, unique places, seasonal trips, trips grouped by states or regions...the choices are all there. This link is one you should bookmark for all those times when the urge to explore hits: 1001 Vacation Ideas.

Another idea is to put together your own trip based around a theme. My wife and I like to drive portions of old Route 66. The famous "Mother Road" is still quite accessible in several places along its route from Chicago to Los Angeles. Old style motels, caf├ęs, and general stores that once bustled with travelers remain open for those who like to visit an important part of our past. Books that allow you to trace the route and provide specific, mile-by-mile recaps of what used to be there are loads of fun.

Over the last several years Betty and I have been visiting as many of the National Parks as we can every time we take a road trip. This goal feeds her photographic need and provides me with more blog ideas. You can specialize on national monuments, state parks, or anything that can be labeled.

How about all the places with picnic facilities that overlook a lake or stream within 150 miles of your home? Do you like to read? How about a trip that visits the best independent bookstores in your home state or region of the country. How about unusual museums? One of our most memorable finds was a salt and pepper shaker museum. Any hobby or passion can form the basis of a trip that you will remember forever. Now that I am collecting and repairing antique radios, I would love to put together a trip that visits stores that specialize in these beauties. 

The best idea generator lies between your ears. Take anything you like and build a vacation around that idea, hobby, or passion. And, of course, planning that trip is at least half the fun!

Get planning and start packing.

August 3, 2017

Did You Know That.....

...retirement was an unknown concept for most of human history. Work until you die, or can't do anything productive any longer was the "rule." With most of us living in rural situations, retirement made no sense. The cows needed milking and the crops had to be planted, regardless of your age.

Most experts cite the start of Social Security in the United States in 1935 as the official recognition of a change in mindset. But, not until Medicare was enacted in 1965 were most people able to even consider retirement at some point.

As you are aware, 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day. This massive flow will continue for another several years. That many people puts Social Security and Medicare under tremendous pressure. Neither was designed to support so many folks for so long. In 1935 the government figured setting the retirement age at 65 was a safe move; the majority of recipients would not live for very many years after that.

Well, we showed them! Within a few years after the 1935 start, those aged 65 had an average of 12 more years to take those monthly payments. Today, that figure is more like 20 years. Those living into their 90's and 100's grows every year. 

Satisfying Retirement has been tracking and discussing all of this for the past seven years. Even after the major economic upheaval of 2008-2009, interest in retirement topics didn't really wane. Sure, a lot people had to delay leaving work, cut back on their plans, or consider some serious downsizing. Some had to abandon the idea of retirement completely. But, the dream didn't die. The belief that there would be a future of freedom and exploration continued.

Today, I am seeing the unfolding of a trend that is pointing us back to a place we were a generation or two ago: retirement as an uncommon choice for many working men and women. Studies that cross my desk all say the same thing: a growing percentage of those who have reached a typical retirement age are in no rush to leave work. Those in their 40's and 50's see retirement as a receding point on the horizon. Adults in their 20's and 30's don't see retirement as a desirous (or possible) option at all.

Of course, with projections that Social Security and Medicare will be unable to pay full benefits starting in just 17 years, maybe the younger folks are just accepting reality. Maybe they'd love to enjoy what those of us who are retired have learned: this phase of life can be the most fulfilling and exciting of all. 

Maybe they accept that Congress will not make the tough choices necessary to fix the system developed 50-70 years ago line up with the reality of longer life and a drop in employment. Maybe they can't or won't save enough to be away from a job. Maybe the movement away from social groups and organizations and into social media where human contact is minimized has something to do with it. A report by Bloomberg on July 17th says that retirement dread is replacing the American dream. That is a very sad state of affairs.

I don't know. What does seem apparent is that those of us enjoying our retirement now and those within five or ten years of leaving the workforce may be a vanishing breed. The system that supports us may not be available for our kids or grandkids. Even if we have taught them the importance of delayed gratification and saving, the lack of fiscal discipline from others could mess up everyone's future. The lack of leadership and will in Washington will catch up with us all.

The message for us is two-fold:

1) Enjoy every moment of your satisfying retirement. Things may sort themselves out and retirement will be possible and enjoyed by generations to come. But, you are here now. Make the most of all your opportunities and freedom.

2) Urge your family to plan for a future that may throw more burdens on them. If possible, leave some financial help for those who follow you. If you can't, leave them your wisdom, experiences and an attitude that all things are doable. It seems clear that more responsibility for our future will rest on us, on the individual's shoulders. 

July 31, 2017

Two Simple Quotes About Life To Ponder

Recently, I have been sorting through a few shelves of books in my office, deciding which ones to give away and which ones to re-read. While doing so, I stumbled across two quotes that prompted this post:

"Simplify the material side of our lives and enrich the nonmaterial side"

This is from well-known simplicity author, Duane Elgin. Over the years I have owned and enjoyed several of his books. Voluntary Simplicity was one of my first exposures to the topic of cutting back and reducing consumption. First published over 35 years ago, he has reissued this important work several times. Even after several re-reading of this book, I continue to find something to inspire me. This quote is a good example.

I haven't counted, but I would guess I have written at least 50 posts on the importance of focusing on the nonmaterial side of life during retirement. By the time we stop working, we have accumulated enough stuff to last for the rest of our life. Certainly, new clothes, a replacement automobile, a computer to replace the one that died....there are items we must buy, as needed, for the rest of our life. There are things we can afford that enrich our lives, like travel, gifts to adult children or grandkids, going back to school, or taking on a new hobby. 

But, Duane's point is that stuff just for stuff's sake is what we can eliminate. In America, our culture makes every effort to convince us our lives aren't complete until we own the next trinket or toy. We won't be satisfied until we add ...fill in the our possessions. 

His central point is not to eliminate everything that makes life joyful. Rather, it is to cut back by resisting the urge to buy and add to our stuff, just because we can, while bulking up on the things that make a life a satisfying journey.

"Life that is not growing and advancing makes living only not dying"

French writer and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, is the source of this intriguing quote. If she were still alive I am not sure how she would feel about this comparison, but her thought is not much different than Jimmy Buffett's, "I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead."

Both are saying the same thing: living less than a full life isn't much better than being dead. I'm not prepared to go quite that far. But, if the only way to define a life is by saying at least that person isn't dead, there should be a great sense of loss or missed opportunity.

Do you know any retirees who spend their precious gift of time as if it were endless, always putting off something today until tomorrow? Maybe even worse, are those who "kill time" just to make the clock move from the time they wake up until it is OK to climb back into bed. 

Why? A serious health problem, a real financial hole they can't escape, a toxic relationship....there are reasons why someone would feel forced to endure a life that has little living in it Certainly, it is not fair to judge that type of existence.

For those who do have an option, promise yourself you will not live a watered-down life. We only have one shot at our time on earth (sorry, Shirley MacLaine). Make sure it is easy to tell the difference between living and not dying.

July 28, 2017

Random Notes from my Desk

No particular topic or focus this time, just some loose ends to clear out off my desk. They aren't worth a full post, just a few paragraphs each:

*Britbox  This is a streaming service I became aware of after seeing an article in the New York Times. Betty and I enjoy many of the British shows that make their way to PBS, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. While humor from the U.K. often eludes us, British crime dramas are a very nice change of pace.

Since the police don't carry guns, crimes are solved more with intellect and old-fashioned sleuthing. There is much less violence, no explosions, and no on-screen shootouts. If a gun is used in a crime, these programs tend to show the victim after the detectives enter the story. The appeal of American shoot-em-up crime shows has worn quite thin.

Documentaries and lifestyle shows that feature the beautiful U.K. countryside are enjoyable, too. It is interesting to us that the hosts are not usually "Hollywood" beautiful. Rather, they are common folks who love what they are showing. They are refreshingly real.

*Restoring old radios  I have started a new hobby. As a natural extension of my ham radio activities and career in broadcasting, I have started buying and restoring vintage radios. These wooden-boxed beauties are from the 1930's and 40's, well before FM or any form of digital transmissions. I don't buy them to really listen to them since the AM band is now almost exclusively talk or religious stations. In Phoenix the only music heard on AM is Mexican, except for one 60's oldies station. 

I am collecting them for the beauty of the cabinets and the fascination with bringing something back to life that is sixty or even seventy years old and still works. 

*Being careful how you act around others   We were taking care of our grandson for a few days a couple of weeks ago. Mom and the girls were out of town on a Girl Scout trip, and dad was working. So, to help out we agreed to have him spend the days with us. Unfortunately, this was the period when our computers were malware-attacked. Tempers were shorter than normal. I was snapping at Betty and she was getting agitated with me. 

Our attitudes did not go unnoticed by him. After a while, he simply asked if we could stop arguing. He suggested we stop working on the computers since that seemed to be the cause of our anger.

Few things can get you back under control more quickly than to have a grandchild ask you to change your behavior. What a great lesson in proper respect for each other and controlling one's emotions.  It was embarrassing and sobering, but he was completely in the right.

*Summers and heat  We are less than halfway through the mind-numbing heat of a Phoenix summer. Daytime highs won't drop below 100 until mid to late September. Open window weather will arrive in November. That is a long way away.

For both budgetary and family-oriented reasons, we decided to spend the summer in town. Except for a five day trip to Disneyland next month, we are here for every one of those hot days.

Betty and I are coming to more fully appreciate why we usually plan on being gone for at least part of each summer! Day after day of the same toastiness is draining. I grew up back east so I remember the winter weeks of snow and cold that seemed like they would never end. The heat in the desert produces something kind of like that...a cabin-fever feeling of an unpleasant mother nature lurking just outside your door.  Next summer....

*E-mails should come with warning labels  Because they are so easy to use and such a part of our lives, we tend to forget the power of e-mails. Donald Trump, Jr. and Hillary Clinton are recent high profile instances of e-mails gone bad. Stories of folks losing jobs or harming relationships over missent electronic mail are common. 

We forget that once we hit send, there will be a permanent record of whatever you typed. If you send a e-mail in anger or without thinking through the ramifications, there is a never-ending risk of harm. 

Perhaps we'd all benefit from an attitude that an e-mail is no different from the written note you once put into the mailbox. Once it drops into the box, whatever you said cannot be taken back. To paraphrase a Jimmy Buffett expression, "an e-mail is a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling."

OK, cleaner desk top. Thanks for letting me post these random thoughts.

July 25, 2017

Do You Have a Smart Speaker? Why?

Amazon Echo

This topic seems like a logical one after my experience with computer cyberattacks. A smart speaker is one that allows you to ask a question, play a certain type of music, ask about the weather, or order a product without the effort involved in getting out of your chair. Talk to a smart speaker and it handles your needs. Amazon has its Dot and Echo while Google sells Home. Other companies offer similar products, either as a standalone product or hooked to a home security system.

A smart speaker is usually connected to your home wireless network. It has a speaker and a microphone. A "trigger" word, like the default, Alexa, for the Echo, causes the microphone to activate. After receiving a command, question, or other accepted action, that audio clip is sent to a server that executes your command, all in the blink of an eye. 

Third party apps can be programmed to turn on and off lights in your home, set your thermostat, lock or unlock doors, change the settings on your refrigerator, even order groceries or have a meal delivered. In short, a smart speaker has the potential to be  a 24 hour a day servant, fulfilling your desires with little effort on your part.

I will skip discussing the obvious question, "How lazy are we?" Anything a smartspeaker can do can be done by a smart phone, a computer, a tablet, or getting out of the chair and flipping a switch. Ordering something online becomes ridiculously easy, something Amazon Prime already makes much too convenient for my budget.

More to the point, how dangerous is this toy/tool? If a simple word turns on the microphone and sends whatever you say to some server in some cloud somewhere, what are the risks of cyberattack, having personal data compromised, or finding a hacker ordering a full set of encyclopedias without your knowledge? Are you sure whatever you are talking about in the room with the device isn't being recorded?

In theory the voice clip you send after speaking is encrypted, but we know how well that doesn't work today. Besides, your audio files are all stored until you go through several steps to delete them. I am sure marketers would love to know everything you ask about or want to know. Advertising targeted to interests would quickly follow. 

Are we trading privacy for convenience? Well, no news here, that train left the station years ago. Google, Amazon, and every place you visit online already knows more about some of your habits than your mother or spouse. When you visit a web site your computer collects cookies and the merchant collects patterns. Why do you think after visiting a site that offers cruises do you think ads for Mediterranean trips pop up on your next Google search or looking at Facebook? 

I like new technology but I don't own a smart speaker, yet. So my questions to you are rather basic:

1) Do you own a smart speaker? Do you like it, use it often?

2) If you don't own one, are you considering it? Does the convenience appeal to you?

3) How do you feel about the privacy issue? Is there a risk? Are you willing to accept it?

Google Home

Amazon just finished their huge Prime Day deals sale. I noticed the Echo was cut to half price. I will admit I was tempted, but decided to wait for your feedback.

July 22, 2017

Could I Live Without?

My recent computer hacking problems have forced me to think about what I could live without. and what would diminish my life's satisfaction. Some things are essential to me, some to my happiness and sense of satisfaction. Others are a part of of daily life but I could certainly function without them. This list is by no means complete, but it might be a thought starter for you, too.

It would be very difficult  or very unpleasant to live without:

My wife and family

Could I physically survive without them? Yes. Would it turn my world upside down and remove a large share of what I feel makes my life meaningful? Absolutely. If things ever begin to unravel I want to have those most dear to me by my side. 


If I had been born someplace other than The United States or another country in the developed world my sense of what constitutes key freedoms would probably be very different. But, being born to a middle class family in 1949 in America I have come to believe certain freedoms are a part of life. Among those are the freedom to live where I want and choose my life's work.

The freedom of the press, of peaceable assembly, to raise my children they way I believe is best and of an orderly and non-violent transition of power are what I expect. On a daily basis I don't think how unusual this list would be to billions of people around the world. But, if suddenly they were gone I would be hard-pressed to adjust.

Basic services

Dependable electricity, clean water, police and fire protection, good medical care, access to safe and plentiful food are certainly high on my very important list. Could I survive without them? Frankly, I don't know. Particularly in Phoenix, making it through a summer without air conditioning would be nearly impossible and is fatal to some of our citizens every year.

An automobile

It would very very difficult and very uncomfortable to live where I live without access to a car and gas. Phoenix is not designed with pedestrians, bike riders, or users of public transportation in mind. I would most likely survive but it would be extremely limiting, inconvenient, and in the summer, downright dangerous.

Things I could live without but would rather not:

Good friends

Having good friends is important to me. When a friendship ends I feel a loss. When a friendship continues and strengthens my life is enriched. I certainly could survive if I had no close friends, but the effect on my life would be unpleasant.

Access to the world through Internet.

It wasn't until 1995 that tapping into the Internet became common. True, it was only dial-up with all sorts of limitations. But, from that point forward the world and our lives would not go unchanged.

Today, the Internet is essential to the smooth functioning of the global economy. It is so much a part of our daily lives we only think about its importance when we lose access for a few hours or days. I am sure you have noticed that one of the first things an autocratic government does when it gets into trouble is to prevent its citizens from connecting to the rest of the world. Could I live without the Internet? Yes. But I would be living in a very different world.

Availability of cultural, sporting and entertainment options. Access to music and books.

What brings dimension to my life is the ability, on occasion, to add something different to the usual routine. Music concerts, plays, a hike through the mountain preserves, a picnic on a warm afternoon are spice to my normal diet. While I may someday end up with nothing but a Kindle, for now I enjoy the feel of a book. I enjoy listening to Spotify radio, but live music is just better. Certainly I could easily survive without any of this, but life would be much less enjoyable.

In reviewing this list it is clear I live a privileged life. In many parts of the world  and for the majority of its population, even clean water and safe food are too much to hope for. Those billions are focused on pure survival and nothing else. I don't feel guilty about what I have. But, I am very much aware of my blessings and my responsibilities to reduce as much as possible the damage I cause to the environment.

Overall, I am an optimist. Excessive worry is a waste of energy and time. But, prudent preparation and awareness are not incompatible with believing things will be OK. After seeing the end of the horrible economic mess of the last decade now we seem to be in another period of political uncertainty. I am still confident in my future, but my eyes are wide open.

What about your list? What could live without and still function? What would make your list of essential to your happiness and well being? 

July 19, 2017

Learning to Fail

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by much of anything anymore. An article in the New York Times a few weeks ago detailed one of the hottest new presentations on college campuses: "How to Fail."  These seminars are designed to confront something that too many college freshmen have never faced: not being the best in the room.

Taking home a gold trophy for participation after a season of little league, never getting a grade lower than an A-, always having their wishes fulfilled, hovering helicopter parents protecting children from facing the reality of a world full of disappointment....these young adults don't know how to handle failure. Depression and dropout rates reflect the problems with a generation who spent life in a bubble.

Colleges have discovered that the problem is serious enough that these students need help in accepting less than perfection from themselves. They have to learn that a B or C isn't a mark of a loser. Not getting a class they want, or having a less than perfect roommate is part of life. Failing to be picked by your first choice Greek house is way down on the important list. Being trolled on social media is small potatoes.

This is one part of life retirees don't need to worry about. We don't need a class in failing occasionally, sometimes spectacularly. We know life isn't fair, some folks are jerks, and few people ever ask to see your resume later in life.

The mark of a life well lived is in how we respond to disappointment and failure. A complete life leaves a trail of good and bad, happy and sad. Friends and enemies populate our past. Sometimes family members need to take a time out. Sometimes we need to sit in the corner for awhile.

Only if we let those events, both positive and negative, define who we are, should we sign up for one of these courses. By now we have learned the art of balance, of compromise, of accepting. We look forward to challenges rather than avoiding them. We appreciate the nuances of life, the things that paint our canvas with subtle or unexpected colors.

I am pleased higher education has discovered the need for teaching failure as well as success. That bodes well for the proper maturation of the students lucky enough to participate. It suggests that when they are ready to retire they will know what we learned on our own: a life is build through a series of stumbles and advances, adversities and achievements. 

Ultimately, a satisfying retirement is what that process creates. 

July 15, 2017

Retirement Blogs Worth a Look

A week or so ago I noted the reasons why I blog. That made me think of all the very good people who are writing and publishing and freely available on the Internet.

The ones I read on a regular basis are listed on the right sidebar. I encourage you to check them out if you haven't already done so. Every 8-9 months I update that roll call, adding some fresh ones, while removing those that no longer seem to be the best use of my time, or the blogger has stopped posting fresh content regularly.

I decided it was time to search for some fresh choices for both you and me. Here is a list that may help you discover some new blogs to add to your personal must-read list. Don't be surprised if some of these show up on my blog list, too. 

I have grouped them by category to make it a bit easier. I hope you find them worthy of your consideration.

Focus on Financial Issues

The Retirement Cafe

The Retirement Manifesto

The Squared Away Blog

Our Next Life

A Wealth of Common Sense

Focus on Lifestyle & Health Issues

Our Empty Nest

Any Shiny Thing - Life After 50

Changing Aging

Intentional Retirement

U.S. News on Retirement


Retire Early Lifestyle

Focus on Senior Travel

My Itchy Travel Feet

Travel past 50

Hole In The Donut

Solo Travel Girl

Never Stop Traveling

Who are your favorite bloggers that aren't listed? I'd love to sample some more.

July 12, 2017

You Have To Be A Little Crazy To Retire

Let's review.

Retirement means you:

1)  Stop getting a regular paycheck
2)  Give up employee health insurance
3)  Say goodbye to coworkers and companions
4)  Don't get paid when you take a vacation
5)  Have to fill an extra 8 hours a day on your own
6)  Must find ways to feel productive 
7)  Are your own financial safety net

Of course, all seven negatives can befall you without retirement being the cause.  Your company may downsize, be purchased by someone that loves automation, fails to please stockholders or owners, moves its factory to Mexico, or tries to sell a product the Internet has made obsolete.

Now, you are unemployed, which is like retirement, except you are under serious pressure to end your forced lack of work as soon as possible. You want to go back to work. You need to go back to work. You spend every waking (and sleepless moment) thinking about work. 

So, all a bit tongue in cheek, right? If these points were the sum total of retirement, you would have to be a little crazy to agree to do so voluntarily. If given the choice you'd stay at your desk, on the factory floor, in the company car, or wherever your presence was validated every few weeks with a paycheck, until your employer changed the lock on the door.

The good news is all these scary possibilities are more than outweighed by a much longer list: the reasons why you decide to retire, on purpose. You are not a little crazy. I contend you are about to start living fully for the first time since you put on big boy or big girl pants.

A quick summary is in order. You are raised by a parent or two, or maybe a relative. You are under their control. You eat what they serve, you sleep and wake when they tell you, and pretty much are lacking any real independence.

If you decide to go to college, things change a little. You are free to skip classes and generally make a fool of yourself. If you learn much it will be a by-product of an extended childhood.

Then, to pay for those 4 or 6 years of "freedom," you find yourself with a very large student debt. You must get a job to pay off that debt and support yourself.

For the next 35 years or so, you live to work. You spend untold hours in a car to and from your job. You do what you are told to do (not unlike childhood). For the more unlucky among us, you are available well after working hours and on weekends for phone calls and emails. Sunday night is the most stressful time of  your week.

Finally, you retire. You have looked over the seven points that began this post and have come to the logical conclusion that you would still like to stop working. You believe that having control of your days, schedule, and productivity are worth more than the downsides. You think that freedom is worth the cost.

At this point, you decide you'd have to be a little crazy to keep on working.

July 10, 2017

A Hacking Attack Triggers Some Changes

A few days ago I noticed a massive bump in the number of daily visitors to Satisfying Retirement. Six times the normal views showed up on the blog's stats page. For no discernible reason I was in the top tier of retirement bloggers. 

I figured a bunch of computers had clicked on the spot for some reason, one I didn't immediately figure out. The number of spam comments didn't increase dramatically. The comments came from the normal folks and regular blog readers. There hadn't been a huge spike in book sales. So, I assumed the traffic spike was just an odd occurrence.

Then, on Friday afternoon I learned differently: my computer had become loaded with malware, trojan programs, ransomware, and other not-so-nice software. My home wireless network had been overwhelmed with attacks, many of which got through. The computers began behaving erratically. The printers stopped printing. When I tried normal fixes for typical computer glitches the problems only became worse.

Finally, Betty called a representative at our computer company who listened to our problems and receieved our permission to remotely look inside the machines. He found software with the signatures of Eastern European and Russian hackers. He found good chunks of the computers were remotely turned off or had their settings changed.

At that point he switched us to a Microsoft support company that spent nearly four hours cleaning out all the poison, resetting up the wireless router, and re-programming two printers had had become unworkable. Several times during this process I had to plug or unplug certain pieces of equipment, turn printers on and off, then on, off, and on again. I was forced to reprogram the Roku device to get the television system back on line.

Finally, I was informed that the malware was gone, both printers were back in working order, and the router was operating properly. Hundreds of malicious programs were removed. A new malware detecting program was installed to work in conjunction with the firewall program already in place. For about $300 my electronic life had been made whole again.

The day of the attack's repairs was certainly one of the more stressful I have had in quite awhile. Only my heart episode of two years ago raised my anxiety level as high as this violation of my privacy by computer hackers. I feared the blog and everything electronic had been compromised. 

This event has triggered the following steps by me. Whether they keep me any safer is debatable, but I have to take some action to feel better:

1)  Our smart phones will have wireless and mobile data turned off at all times except when needed. There is no benefit , only risks, from being connected to the Internet at all times.

2) I am curtailing some of my Internet activity. I have cut way back my the number of "friends" on my Facebook page., friends I actually know and trust. The Satisfying Retirement Facebook page is gone. It is a way into my life that may or may not be exploited; it is not important enough to me to continue.

3) I have purchased and installed a much more robust anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-phishing program. It is set to the highest level of protection. It scans for problems every few hours.

4) I have changed my Chrome settings to block all self-starting videos without my permission. 

5) Both computers and wireless printers will be turned off overnight. 

6) For now, I will continue to blog. But, if I see another massive bump in clicks, I will terminate this blog instantly. I will start up somewhere other than on Blogger. 

These steps will not prevent a persistent hacker from making our life a mess. If people can break into the computers of big companies, utilities, the NSA, or anyone, anywhere, at anytime, I know I will never be entirely safe. Even so, the benefits of  the Internet far outweigh the negatives, for now.

I sincerely hope you don't have to deal with this type of problem. It can shake your belief in the goodwill of  too many people. At the sametime, it is comforting to know there are folks out there who can fix these problems quickly and at a reasonable cost.